She says the hip-swaying and shedding of inhibitions haven’t come naturally, but Aoibhin Garrihy has proved herself the star of RTE’s dance show, says Sarah Caden. Her old-Hollywood looks and Doris Day charm are a breath of fresh air, but Aoibhin isn’t su
When I meet Aoibhin, she is sitting in front of a roaring open fire in the lounge of the Westbury Hotel, with a large coffee in front of her and undeniably sleepy eyes. The night before was Sunday,
night. She had been in the studio from 7am, had gone into the final-three line-up for the very first time, and then had to stay on set to film the companion show, until midnight. Aoibhin concedes that it was a long day, but she’s simply glad to have dodged elimination.
“My 92-year-old grandad was in the audience,” she says, “with his notebook, making sure they didn’t add up the votes incorrectly. It might have killed him if I’d been knocked out. Imagine how awful that would have been!”
So, at the time of writing, Aoibhin is still in with a chance of winning
She would seem, with her apparently effortless grace and charm, to be a contender, but we all know that there’s no predicting the outcome on a show such as this.
Something has happened during Aoibhin’s ‘ journey’ on the dancing competition. To begin with, she was an also-ran, the girl who used to be on
who ticked the ‘former soapstar’ box in the line-up of celebrities. By week two, though, it became clear that there was something about Aoibhin. It wasn’t just her clean-cut blonde good looks, with their old-Hollywood, Doris Day vibe. It was that she seemed like the real deal — a real dancer, a proper star.
It is, perhaps, the fact that Aoibhin wears her charisma lightly that is so appealing. Out there on the dance floor, where there’s “nowhere to hide” as she puts it, faking it is all too obvious. And so is naked ambition — too obvious, too unsettling and not something that radiates from Aoibhin. Instead, funnily, she is ambivalent about her ambition, cautious about celebrity.
“The world now is all about the fame,
Dancing With The Stars With the Stars. City, Can’t Stop Dancing, Dancing Fair
and even on when they speak to us, they say, ‘OK, celebs, over here . . .’ and I cringe. There are no celebs in Ireland really, unless you’re Bono, but aside from that, it’s ridiculous. It’s too small a place; we’re just professionals. Unless you’re a global superstar, you’re not a celebrity.”
There is the sense that Aoibhin is too normal or too nice to be in show business, while at the same time seeming so suited to it. In fact, when people tell her that they too want to be actors, her advice to them is always the same: unless you can’t live without it, don’t do it.
The thing is, though, that I can’t really tell if Aoibhin can’t live without it. She has that special something, I think, that’s become obvious on
if not the killer instinct. “The thing about me and acting it that I love it when I’m in it. I love doing it, but the industry is . . . ,” she stalls and shrugs. “Ugh, I don’t know, I’m not gone on it. I’m not the kind of person who likes to schmooze. You know, to get on, you have to be around a lot and I’m not great at that. I do my work and go back to Clare and walk the dogs and get away from it. There’s a clique there and I’m not part of it. I’m not able to be on all the time; performing when you’re not performing.”
Does Aoibhin think this has worked to her detriment, professionally?
“I’d say so, probably,” she replies. “You have to be prepared to really immerse yourself in it. Like, watching Ruth Negga on the Oscars she was three years ahead of me in college, and as undergraduates we all looked to her as the hero. She immersed herself in it and she had a hunger for it and she wanted it. That’s what it takes.”
Aoibhin laughs heartily when I describe her as a “good girl”. By her own admission, though, she is a conscientious, diligent, can-do sort of person, always ready for a challenge, always ready to do her best. She’s sort of a school-prefect type, but with a sprinkling of showbiz stardust, a combination that is more winning than her natural modesty will admit.
“And I want to win [the contest], of course I do,” she says. “It sneaks up on you the longer you’re in, but you have to keep
Stars, Dancing With The Stars, Dancing With The
it in perspective: it’s only a show, it’s only a glitter ball [prize]. And a few days after it’s over, I’ ll be in Kathmandu, heading for Everest.”
I met Aoibhin Garrihy once before, interviewing her as a young newcomer to almost seven years ago. The Castleknock native wasn’t long out of studying drama in Trinity College, and she was thrilled with landing such a high-profile big job. She was warm and friendly and open about her background in both Like, watching Ruth Negga on the Oscars she was three years ahead of me in college, and as undergraduates we all looked to her as the hero. She immersed herself in it and she had a hunger for it and she wanted it. That’s what it takes. Dublin and Co Clare. Both of her parents hail from that county, and her father was and remains involved in a family boatcruises business there with his brothers. She was in a relatively new relationship with Spanish Point hotelier John Burke and she was dividing her time between the capital and Co Clare.
Fast-forward seven years and, all has changed, but not changed, either. These days, Aoibhin is highly involved, with her father and two sisters, Doireann and Ailbhe, in running the other family business, Dublin Bay Cruises. She left
after three years playing Neasa Dillon, when “it felt like the character and I were becoming one and the same”, and, last September, she and John Burke were married. She’s older and wiser, you might say, even if she doesn’t look it.
Aoibhin’s life remains very much split
Fair City Fair City
between Clare and Dublin, though; that’s one thing that is unaltered, even by marriage.
“The nature of my job is that it often comes in fits and starts, and I love that. And in terms of me and John, it means that we can see a lot of each other for months when I don’t have anything on and I can be in Clare, or then I’m working and we barely see each other at all. My dad calls it a very contemporary marriage,” Aoibhin says with a laugh.
John is very tied, obviously, to the Armada Hotel in Clare, a family business he began running when his father became ill and subsequently died. But work for Aoibhin, as an actress, remains in Dublin.
“Our home in is Ennis,” she explains, “but when I’m working, it’s back to Mam and Dad and the full fridge in Dublin. And doing it’s lovely to come home and have the hot-water bottle in the bed and all those lovely things. At the moment, I can’t imagine having it any other way. The drive up and down to Ennis doesn’t bother me a bit, but we’ ll see in the future.”
Her departure from Aoibhin says, was partly to do with John and having more time for their relationship, but she also had itchy feet, professionally.
“I’m not the kind of person who likes to be boxed-in,” Aoibhin explains. “You know: ‘That’s who you are and that’s what you do and that’s that’. And John’s like that, too. We like projects and we like challenges, and we like to try all kinds of different things.”
Leaving the RTE soap, which was a regular, relatively reliable job with a decent profile — a covetable position for any actor — was an interesting experience for Aoibhin. She won’t say that it was a wake-up call, because she’s not given to negativity, but there were moments when she wondered where things were going to go for her.
“Things probably didn’t happen as quickly as I’d hoped,” says Aoibhin. “It wasn’t quite naivete. I suppose I knew that acting isn’t a bed of roses, but you hope that you will be the one to break the mould.”
Jobs that she loved followed, including
Dancing With The Stars, Fair City,
‘In college, we all looked to Ruth Negga as the hero. She had a hunger for it and she wanted it. That’s what it takes’